The Thousand Dollar Genome Has Arrived!

The first human genome was sequenced about a decade ago, at a cost of around four billion dollars. The results were amazing, showing us that people have a paltry twenty some thousand total genes. We thought we were a lot more complicated than that. We also found that chimps have DNA sequence about 99% identical to ours. Ouch again! We thought we were more special than that.

OK, we sequenced the human genome, and learned some cool stuff. So, you might think, end of story, now let’s do something else.

But the sequencing of one human genome is really just the beginning of the story. Different people have DNA sequences that are about 0.1% different. Unless they are twins. And twins are remarkably alike, in appearance and just about everything else, exactly because they share the same DNA sequence. The obvious conclusion is that your DNA sequence is really important in defining your many traits.

We’d like to be able to unravel the very complicated relationship between your DNA sequence and your traits. Many diseases have a foundation in DNA sequence. If we knew which of your genes contributed to your disease then we might be able to devise more effective therapies, designed to work best for you.

We’d like to sequence the DNAs of lots of people, with many different illnesses, to better understand the genetic basis of disease. But at four billion dollars per sequence that’s not going to happen.

Enter the DNA sequencing revolution! The cost of sequencing a person’s DNA has been plummeting. A year ago it cost only about four thousand dollars, down a million fold from the original four billion dollars. But even four thousand dollars is still a lot of money.

But, Illumina has just announced a new machine, the HiSeqX Ten, capable of sequencing a person’s DNA for only 800 dollars. Further, it offers staggering throughput, capable of sequencing tens of thousands of genomes per year.

The thousand dollar genome has long been considered the cost point at which genome sequencing can become a standard diagnostic procedure. We are now entering an era where everyone will have their DNA sequenced, and the resulting data will become a key part of our medical records.

As we collect thousands, and then millions of DNA sequences, and correlate them with the corresponding medical records, we will figure out how the different sequences contribute to disease. Medicine is about to take a giant step forward.

And, in a similar manner, we will begin to better understand how DNA sequences impact our other traits, including intelligence, appearance and athletic ability. When this new understanding is combined with our increasing power to manipulate our DNA sequences it opens up some fascinating, and perhaps frightening, possibilities. We will be the first species able to dictate our own evolution.

The term eveloce refers to a singularity boundary point in our evolution, where each generation is more intelligent, and better technologically equipped, to genetically design the next generation. A literal evolutionary explosion results.

And where this will take us, nobody knows. It could well mean the end of the human race as we know it, but perhaps the beginning of something better.